I first encountered this image when we were in Amritsar, riding on the bus, on the way to the Pakistan border. A sticker showing the red outline of a man in robes, with long hair, and a saber drawn, was stuck to the back window of the bus. I started noticing them all around; on cars, on restaurant signs, on cash registers. But the opportunity to ask someone what the little man meant to them never crossed my way while we were in the Punjab. Soon the weekend was over, we headed off to Jaipur, and I no longer saw the little man….
That is until today. We are back in Delhi, and I was just going to buy a pani bottle and eck cup chai from the vendor across from the hotel, when I looked at the tail end of a parked ambassador and saw my little old friend, stoicly stuck, with sward still blazing, on the bumper of the car. I asked a good old gentleman who was eating at some masala munchies, “Namaste uncle. Can you tell me who this is a picture of?”
“Oh this?.. This is Shivar Ji” he responded
“Shiva? You mean this is lord Shiv?” I was confused. The destroyer weilds a trident, not a saber.
“No, no! Not Shiva; SHIVAR ji. His name is ShivAR.”
“Ah. I see. And what can you tell me about this man?”
“Shivar Ji? He is a great warrier; you know, a fighter… In battle”
“Yes, Sap Hay. Who does he fight for? And Who is he fighting”
“He is a Punjabi, and you know the Punjabi people like this character. So he fight for them, and he fought a big battle against the Muslims. It was a big war.”
“Now, when you say Punjabi, do you mean he is a Sikh?”
“Yes, Yes, Yes. Of course, this man is a Sikh. He is Punjabi, but he is fighting, the Sikh peoples against the Muslims. I think they was fighting in about like 18… ah like 1890 or something like that.”
“Is this why the Sikh people carry swards? Because of this man?”
“Yes, because he get them to fight, and to defend them against the Muslims, and so now they carry the sward, like you see at Gurdwara” (motioning in the direction of the Gurdwara a few blocks away)
“And why were they fighting?”, I pressed further.
“Because the Muslims wanted to you know, they did not like that the Punjabi.. I mean they did not like the Sikh peoples, so they fight them to defend their religion?”
“I see. So do people pray to Shivar Ji. Is he treated like a god?”
“No. He is not a god. Only a fighter… The Punjabi.. I mean Sikh people put this emblem on their cars so that people know that they are Sikhs. Just like Hindus put pictures of Gnesha or you know, Krishna or whatever on their cars. So, if you want a taxi, and you are a Sikh person maybe you come to this man.”
So it seems that the little man is no god at all. He is a mere mortal, a killer, a defender of a people (wether they be Punjabis, or Sikhs, or only Sikh Punjabis is uncertain). His noble image serves for an underground symbol for communication between members of a religious group; much like the Jesus fish was for early Christians under the oppression of the Romans. So he lives on, in our hearts and on our bumpers.
– Nicholas Schessl, Fall 2013
I’m stopped for a bottle of slice, sitting on a stool next to the strangely quiet Delhi street. I stand up to pay the man at the window of his little booth. Behind the chips and chew hanging in the window, I see a picture of a Devi with pink hued skin, eight arms, riding on a tiger. She has a crown on her head, flowers around her neck, and in each of her hands she carries a discus, a club, a trident, two swards, a conch shell, and a lotus flower. I ask the man behind the counter to explain who this goddess is.
“This is Mata Rani” he says.
“Who is she” I says.
“Devi. She is from Jammu-Kashmir.”
“Why does she ride on the tiger?”
“Because she lives in the forest”
I am failing to see the necessary correlation between one’s biome and their mode of transportation. So I press further. “But why does she not walk, or ride on a monkey?” since these too like in the forest.
“The tiger is like her horse, so she rides the tiger. Just like Gnesh rides on a rat, and Shiv rides a bull. This is her choice.”
“I see. And why does she carry the sward?”
“Because when peoples are fighting; when India fights war with Pakistan, Mata Rani is helping them.”
“So she is the Goddess of War?”
“No, no, not war….”
“So why do people pray to her? Like people pray to Gnesha when they get a new job, or when they take an exam? Why do people pray to Mata Rani?”
“Oh, oh, Tee Kay. So peoples pray to her to ask that they do not you know, get angry with other people or that other peoples do not try to get upset and fight them. Or like, so that there is no car accident, or nobody robs them, or cheats them. And they prays to her so that when they are fighting, or there is a battle, that there will be no more fighting and people will not be hurt.”
“Oh I see, so she is like a devi of peace?”
“Yes, Yes, Yes. Godess of peace”
“Why does she carry the shell?
“Because when you blow into the shell, it makes a big sound that makes everything quiet and makes you feel peace.”
I thanked the man for his time and walked away feeling peaceful and nice inside. I still find it ironic that the goddess of peace carries six weapons and only one flower. Also, Teagan is convinced that the photo that I took is that of Durga, not some chick named Mata Rani.
– Nicholas Schessl, Fall 2013
I have encountered Shiva countless times, and in countless forms throughout the duration of this trip. There is the Iconic ling that which we all know and love, which depicts the phallus of the deity emerging from the female anatomy at its base. There is also the embodied form of the god, made famous by folk art and paintings, with the blue deity sitting cross legged, clad in tiger skin and adorned with snakes, the Ganga flowing from the Himalayas in his matted hair, while his mount (the bull) his drum of creation and drum of destruction sit nearby. We know these images all too well. But here, I would like to focus on an experience that I have had with Shiva that took a less common forms.
We were in Jaipur. I had just visited the “monkey temple” and was wandering throughout the stone roads that wind through the hills beyond the city; past chai shops and men in saffron robes, claiming to be priests thought they appear as beggars. As I walk with Michelle and Marie, We hear a voice holler “Hello!” out of the open window of a metal shack by the side of the road. I peer into the window as we walk past, and I see a man with dreadlocks, sitting cross legged and bare chested, wearing only a white cloth around his legs. He is squinting and smiling at us, waving for us to come in, repeatedly saying “Hello, Namaste”. We decide to check it out, and round the building until we find an open door on the opposite side.
Walking inside we find three more men sitting on blankets, facing the dreaded man. Between him and his audience (which now includes us) is the black, smoldering remains of a fire. There are pictures on the wall of the humanized Shiva, as well as many self portraits of the dreaded man. Hindi music wines from a muffled radio, hidden somewhere in the room. As we sit down the dreaded man smiles a closed lip smile, so big that his eyes squint half shut. He rocks from side to side and nods his head in satisfaction. As “Chai?” he asks. We agree, and he pours some water and milk into a pot, already filled with spices, and he puts it onto the fire. He is mumbling to himself and not paying any attention to anyone in the room as he looks around the room and finds a small clay tube. He hands it to one of the other men, who has been rolling some ugly brown leaves in his hands for some time. The man packs the leaves in the pipe. The dreaded man says something (apparently to himself since he looks at the ground and nobody responds) and laughs. Then the man with the pipe hands it to the man with the dreads, who lights a match and sucks the fire into the pipe. He coughs, and sticks out his tongue and shakes his head in laughter, before holding the pipe out towards me. I laugh at the scene and say no thank you, motioning to the next guy, who gladly takes it. The air smells pleasant.
As it is going around, the man with the dreads squints and smiles at me and nods his head. Then he points to himself, and says “Shiv… I Shiv… Big babba!” He is not laughing. “You are Shiv?” I ask, pointing at him. He nods his head, then points at the picture of Shiv on the wall, and then to himself, and says “Same man”. I try to take it seriously, as he puts the pipe in his mouth again and returns to a coughing fit.
Just keeping the conversation going on related similarities, I point to his hair, and then to me and say “I had hair like this”. He says “Yes I am babba….” and he smiles with eyes more shut than open. I would like to ask him more about his relationship with Shiva, I wonder if he is speaking philosophically, saying that we are all god. But my conversation regarding confirms an unbeatable language barrier.
The tea has boiled, and by the time the pipe is finished, it has cooled to the point that a skin has formed over the surface. Shiva sticks his finger into the tea and scoops out the skin. He holds his arm strait out, with the milky brown film hanging there. It slowly slips off his finger and onto the ground. Shiva’s stern face slips into a grin and he bursts out laughing, falls backwards, and after a few seconds he sits up, crying and coughing through his laughter. I have got to laugh too, but I am trying not to, because the guys in the corner are stern faced and reverent, staring at me like “pay your respect dude”. So I try to hold it in. And so it goes on like that until we have finished our chai, at which point we bow to the deity and get up to leave.
As we walk back up the hill. Michelle says to me “Holy shit. Stoners are exactly the same everywhere.” To which I respond, “If all you have to do to become a god is smoke a ton of pot, I have been surrounded by the divine my whole college career.” On the one hand, it is easy to be irreverent, and assume that the whole thing is bullshit; the man calls himself divine so that his friends will come smoke him up. But on the other hand, maybe there is some truth to it for all I know. Regardless, Shiva had a following in that room.
– Nicholas Schessl, Fall 2013